Monthly Archives: March 2014

Going out on a Friday night

I went out to a house party on Friday. It was lovely to get out of the house, it was a great party, it was . . . nothing. I didn’t feel anything about it at all. I was just numb.

I don’t really enjoy going out any more. I don’t actually not enjoy it. I just don’t feel anything.

I think this might be another bad sign. Not enjoying things has never been a good thing in the past – it’s part of the creeping depression making its way in.

I don’t know whether I should keep trying to go out and enjoy myself, or whether I should stay in bed with a chocolate peanut butter mug cake like I want to most of the time. Going anywhere takes spoonfuls of energy that I just don’t have – I’ve been in bed for the majority of the weekend after going out.

Going out in the day time takes less effort, and is less draining, but that’s not really an option for most people that I might like to see, and it’s definitely not a time when gatherings of people I like tend to occur.  And really, it still takes energy that I don’t have, it just doesn’t deprive me of the sleep I need to function.

The way I feel at the moment, if I never left the house except when I really wanted to I would be happy. No appointments, no social occasions, no visits, maybe the occasional lunch out or coffee, maybe then I might feel better. Enjoy myself more.

Who am I kidding? I’ll feel empty and nothingness until my brain chemistry says otherwise. I’ll be tired and unable to function well until further notice.

Weary

I haven’t blogged much recently. To be honest, I’m discouraged. I have a readership of about ten, with spikes of anywhere up to seventy if I write a good, relevant piece. I don’t have anything good to write about at the moment, and I haven’t been looking too hard. I’m tired.

Depression is sneaking back, and the awful thinking that comes with it. ‘Why should you write? No-one cares. No-one reads your drivel. Just give up.’ I don’t want to give up. I managed to keep writing all through the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced last year. I will do my best to continue now, and hope that the depression doesn’t take me as low as last time. I have a degree to complete. I can’t be unable to do any more than get into a onesie and lie on the couch every day. It just doesn’t fit in with my plans.

I hope that this black patch is just that, a patch. Seeing the shrink next week, and maybe some things will change again. Meanwhile, every second day (except when there’s material making it worth writing more often) I will do my best to write. 

Men failing in a woman’s world

A man by the name of Phil Gifford offered his opinion to a reporter today regarding the sufferings of men in a female-dominated world. Feminists up and down the country were divided between anger and hysterical laughter.

He does have some legitimate points. Men don’t go to the doctor when they’re concerned about something the way women do, and as a result often have poor health outcomes. That’s something that should be addressed as best we can. Boys are struggling with formal education, and need to be supported in order for them to achieve their full potential. however, he’s pretty much off the deep end for much of his ramblings.

There’s one particular quote that struck me.

“Masculists are the reply to feminists. Come on darlings, we want fairness, balance and common sense.”

“Come on darlings”? See, that, right there, is a full dipper of what feminists are trying so hard to fight. Talking down to women and using their gender as a derogatory term is part of the male-dominated female-denigrating culture that this man subscribes to. His language frames his world – a world in which he can protest all he likes, but women are not seen as equal. Where women get talked down to, all the time. Where women are expected to take gendered insult from men like him.

There are things that boys and men need more support with. Feminists do not want to deny others the help they need (or at least in my idealist world), but feminism not going to be hijacked by people screaming ‘what about the men??’. Men that need help should be assisted by the men that are in power – that’s the way it’s always been. Women have other battles to fight.

Keep your gendered insults to yourself, Mr Gifford. Stop wallowing in the depths of privileged woe. You still hold the balance of power, and we’re still trying to gain equality in the majority of fields. Three or four examples of places where men don’t dominate does not equal female oppression. Talk to me when the majority of politicians, CEOs, doctors, and every other prestigious group is dominated by women and they’re not hiring men, and we’ll chat about inequality.

Disappointments

Today I had a friend pull out of a lunch date. To be honest, it’s not that unexpected. We only manage maybe half of the dates we set. What was unexpected is how I reacted.

Usually, It’s just a bit of an annoyance. I go grab some soup from the freezer and move on. But today it had me in tears. I was looking forward to lunch, to doing something nice for me, which hasn’t been very common lately. The closest I get to doing something for me is going to bed ridiculously early, to escape evenings that are just too much for me. I end up doing a lot for other people, a bit of hermit-ing, and nothing much that makes me feel good. So I was looking forward to it.

Now I’m a mess. Changing plans on me is getting less and less tolerable. My brain just can’t deal with it, and it kicks me over into meltdown mode. I had a friend moving down into my area, and I’d offered her some things, and had to organise some stuff for her. She decided that she wasn’t going to take the job down here, and didn’t bother to tell me until I asked her how packing was going. Meltdown. I can’t handle that change, and I really can’t handle being left out of the loop when I was putting a whole lot of effort into making it work.

My eldest daughter has decided she doesn’t want to go to after school care any more. She and her sister go because my partner and I both work from home, and it’s difficult to do that with the kids around, especially my younger, who is a lot of work. But the elder is ten now, and it should work ok, so I’m giving her a week-long trial. We’ll see how that goes. Her ballet has also had its time changed, which changes what I have to do on a Thursday afternoon.

Lots of changes this week. None of them particularly negative. But it’s all too much for this brain. I’m coping less and and less with these things. Meltdowns are becoming easier to trigger. I’m trying to offer less and less to people, so that I can’t get burned by them any more. It means being more of a hermit, and it’s what I want, because dealing with people is making me sick.

This is all just personal waffle, but I need to get it out. I’m not doing well any more, I don’t know if I’m going to stay stable or whether this is a new spiral down. I’m fragile, and scared of that fragility. Maybe it’s time for a new round of medication roulette and/or another go at some variety of talk therapy. I’ve got no faith in the latter, to be honest, after so many failed attempts. It’s the meds that have brought me up to coping-level each time, and then things are good. I can do ok, and then the few calming techniques I know work well. Then the meds stop working (or something. I don’t know what happens really) and things just go to hell. Maybe in the end I’ll take every drug under the sun in my daily cocktail, but I’ll be well.

A pay rise

Barely-noticed this week is a wee news article that should be exciting for beneficiaries. They’re getting a pay rise!

I hear the mutterings – bloody bludgers don’t deserve that, they should be happy with what they get. Don’t be too hard on them though, they’re only getting another 1.38%. Superannuation continues to grow in line with the average New Zealand wage, and superannuitants will continue to receive 66% of an average wage.

What about that 1.38%? How much of a change is that going to make? Well, as a single over-25, your income will rise by $2.85 to $209.06 per week. Which, I believe, constitutes not enough to live on.

When are we going to treat beneficiaries as real people, people who have the right to have enough money to live on? Spare me the crap about career beneficiaries. They’re a right-wing boogey-man and I don’t really want to hear it. Should we really be depriving thousands of people of any kind of quality of life just because some people, somewhere, might choose ‘beneficiary’ as a career? If you believe that, what kind of inhumane person are you? Dehumanising an entire segment of the population because you’re suspicious of some of them is cruel.

Somehow, though, there will be people who resent the idea that beneficiaries and getting a few more dollars. And beneficiaries would be tempted to say ‘take your 1.38% and shove it’, except, well, they really need the extra two bucks.

School funding reform or; Why I started making plans for Hekia Parata’s downfall

I spend a lot of time venting my anger at Paula Bennett, our charming and beloved Social Development minister. What I neglect to do is tell you all about our wonderful and exciting Education minister. I will endeavour to correct this oversight.

My daughter is a little bit special. She’s got some developmental delays, affecting her learning. She’s able to learn in a normal classroom environment, with a bit of extra help in various forms. But she’s falling off the bottom of the educational standards chart for her age, and it is likely that she always will. That’s ok, though, because she’s steadily progressing on her own little trajectory. She’s happy, healthy, and doing well. The school is happy with her progress, I’m happy with it, and all should be well, right?

Well, maybe. Parata unofficially announced that if National win another term, it is very likely that the way the government funds schools may change. Instead of the current system, which gives more money to schools in poorer areas to try and balance out the inequality between rich-kid schools and poor-kid schools. I’m pretty ok with the way it’s currently done, but then, I’m not a school teacher or principal. It may be that it’s fatally flawed but I don’t know about it. Anyway, instead of the decile system that we currently use, there may be a move to performance-based funding.

The performance-based model, already shown to be a disaster in the US, does exactly the reverse of its intentions. Kids that are struggling need more resources, not less. High-achievers need extra support as well, but giving them that at the expense of their underachieving counterparts is not the way to go.

Rich kids do better in school. They have more opportunities, and they also have some basic advantages. Things like having enough to eat, having a warm dry home so they don’t get sick, having the clothes to keep the weather out. It’s not that poorer kids are less intelligent, but they simply don’t have many of the things that are almost necessary for success. Like food. And clothes. They’re kind of a big deal. It’s hard to learn when you’re cold and hungry.

Aside: I feel somewhat ashamed that I support KidsCan, a New Zealand charity. Why? Because it is shameful that there has to be a charity providing Kiwi kids with food, clothes, and shoes. We’re a first world country. What the hell is wrong with us?!

Anyway. Rich schools will do better. Poor schools will do worse. The schools that need the support most will lose it. And my little girl becomes a liability to her school.

Why’s that? Because when you test her against her peers, she does poorly, and she’s not improving in leaps and bounds. She’s just coming on slowly. It pulls the entire school’s averages down. They’ve been amazing, helping her so much, and pouring so many extra resources into her. What happens when she becomes an expensive liability? I know her school would continue to support her. What about ones that can’t afford to?

Hekia Parata has floated around on my ‘politicians that need putting on the naughty step’ radar for a while, but this strikes too close to home. She may not turn my baby into a liability instead of a person.

The joys of dealing with WINZ

A heart-wrenching story came out today of one woman’s latest clash with the denizens of the WINZ office. A sufferer of a condition that causes her much pain, coupled with anxiety, makes going into the WINZ office very difficult. It’s not good for her to need to attend the office too often, as her medical forms state clearly.

WINZ showed their usual remarkable competence by losing her paperwork at a critical time – only a week or two before they were going to cut her benefit for not putting in enough paperwork. The usual rigmarole that they put their clients through on a regular basis (pro tip: if it’s common knowledge that you often lose paperwork, perhaps it’s time to look at your systems). She was subjected to the stress and cost of redoing all of her paperwork, a task that’s not ideal for a very unwell person.

Finally, she had the joy of meeting a WINZ functionary who appeared to know nothing about what might be going on and recommended contacting her case manager – an activity that she had been engaged in trying for the best part of a week.

This is unacceptable.

WINZ is dealing with some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Those in poverty, those taking care of kids on their own, those who are too ill to work. Their job is to make sure these people are not having to turn to crime or begging to survive, or quietly starving. I know they really don’t want anyone getting a benefit, but that’s not realistic. Making it difficult to get a benefit, especially one that is as sorely needed as a sickness benefit, is despicable.

WINZ should have better document logging and handling. Losing stuff is so unprofessional that they should hang their heads in shame. Maybe if it happened once or twice, it would be understandable. Once or twice per person? That’s ridiculous. That’s a critical failure in processes.

WINZ need to critically assess what their staff are doing. They simply do not treat people like people. There are some lovely case managers, but the culture of those offices is one of humiliation and degradation. Their goal is not to support people into a job, it’s to shame them into taking whatever is available, no matter how unsuitable it is. Or to shame them just for being people who are down on their luck. Sir Bob Jones would be proud.

Classifying sick people as ‘Jobseekers’ is ridiculous. Many have jobs that they cannot do because they are too ill. They’re not being lazy. They’re sick, damn it! They don’t need to be lumped with those who are genuinely looking for work (or not, depending on the person). There’s a reason that sick people (and sole parents, but there’s a rant for another day) were in a separate category from the unemployed. Their needs are different. And they don’t need the pressure of being told to get ‘work ready’ while they’re doing their best to recover.

WINZ is incompetent, inefficient, and humiliating to their ‘clients’. Those in poverty deserve respect, just like their wealthy countrymen. They’re people, and should be treated as such. They also deserve to be treated professionally, with all the efficiency and competency that involves.

What we have now is unacceptable.

Two dollars is still a 67% rise

And that 67% is a big deal. Pharmacy co-pay rates rose from $3 to $5 about a year ago. It’s only $2! Yes, only $2. But those two dollars are a hell of a lot when you live on a benefit or work at minimum wage.

TVNZ had a look at the issue, in particular how rural pharmacies were affected by the rise in costs. It’s hitting rural towns pretty hard, as poverty rates can be quite high, as can the incidence of illness. Rural pharmacies are forced to open tabs that will never be paid, or watch people choose which medications they can afford and leave the rest on hold forever. It’s dire.

But how could $5 cause so many problems? Well, it is the difference between walking home (rather a feat if you’re unwell) and getting the bus. Or being able to get to work on the bus. It’s half a pair of cheap shoes for the kids. It’s a quarter of a big bag of nappies. It’s three loaves of bread. A couple of litres of milk.

If you’re like me, you waltz into the pharmacy with half-a-dozen prescriptions – that’s thirty dollars right there, and that’s a huge amount to come up with when your food budget is only $50 per week for your family. Throwing around $5 per prescription is the difference between bread and milk or nothing. When people are struggling to afford $3 prescriptions, $5 is way out of reach.

I’m sure there is a good reason for the rise. Well, maybe. It’s probably something along the lies of “We don’t want to fund Pharmac adequately” for reasons that may be reasonable, but may not. So there are good political reasons, even if they may not be good reasons with regard to patient welfare.

All the good budgetary reasons in the world can’t make up for the fact that this change is threatening the health of some of the most vulnerable people in our country. People on sickness benefits or invalid’s benefits who need that medicine, but cannot make their very meagre budgets stretch to afford it. Solo mothers who are making hard choices – medicine for the baby or formula? Or maybe just no vegetables for mum (meat went the way of the dodo early on, when the choice of meat or formula came up).

People may protest that this is what the disability allowance is for (although that’s irrelevant to acute illnesses). The truth is, adding in a disability allowance sinks into the grand moneypit. It becomes part of the budget that’s making money look critically endangered. It makes things a little easier, but the budget simply isn’t stretchy enough, even with that input.

$5 is too much for people that are already in need of a community services card. It’s too much for beneficiaries on tight budgets. It’s too much for people on minimum wages. It always comes at the cost of another one of life’s needs.

A round of applause

WINZ again. My favourite people in the whole wide world. This time, it’s a practice that they have had for at least four years, possibly longer. The over-the-top celebration following a client (client? Really? It’s not like you can take your business elsewhere if you’re not happy with the service) getting a job.

When a WINZ client gets a job, they often need to go into WINZ – to get a grant to get work clothes, or to wrap up their benefit (doing this over the phone is a dangerous path to take). So they’re there telling their case manager that they’ve got a job, and the case manager is all happy and supportive and it feels really good. Any business remaining is wrapped up as quickly as possible – getting rid of a client is done with far more alacrity than helping them in their time of need – and the client goes to leave. All is well in their world.

All of a sudden, their case manager gets out an old school bell or a hooter of some description. Sounding this gets all the case managers on their feet to applaud the client’s achievement.

What. How embarrassing can you get? Remember at school, when you’d won some award and you had to stand up in assembly, and it was the most embarrassing thing in your week? Imagine this, but in a place that had systematically shamed you for as long as you had been dealing with them. Who made you feel worthless and crappy for daring to need their help. And imagine it in the middle of a room of strangers that you know are suffering the way you once were and who see your success as an almost impossible dream at times. In a way, it’s a tool for shaming them some more – look, that dude managed to get a job, why don’t you get off your arse and do the same?

The displays are patronising – the last time you got a round of fake applause like that, it was in school, and we’re not schoolkids any more. An adult doesn’t need false adulation, particularly not from the ones that have shamed them for so long. It’s condescending – yay you got a job! Well done you! Collect your certificate and mini chocolate bar at the door! (and don’t come back through it, or we’ll treat you just as poorly as we did before)

Walking through that office to a round of applause from a bunch of people that don’t actually give a shit about your achievement is often done head-down and blushing. It’s not a celebration for the jobseeker. It’s a professional celebration of another one off the books.

What works and what doesn’t

There’s an excellent article written recently about working, welfare, and mental health that’s really rather worth looking at. I don’t agree completely with it, but it makes some very good points about wellness and ability to work, and the results of both good and bad jobs. What interests me, however, is the very last line.

The final paragraph is a statement from the Director of Welfare Reform at WINZ. She informs us that there have been changes to the way WINZ deals with the mentally ill (but doesn’t hint at what these changes might be, beyond the obvious renaming of sick people from ‘ill’ to ‘seeking work’). She talks about individualised support, overcoming barriers, and other great buzzwords. Finally, she says

If you need help, come and talk to us.

I choked on my tea. Come and talk to us? That’s the last thing that anyone wants to do. Talk to people that are often not exactly lovely to the people they work with. Talk to people who are stuck within a shitty system of problematic policies. Talk to people who invariably have no idea how mental illness impacts a life. Talk to people who are paid to see you as a loafer who just needs to get up and get a job and get off the benefit, to stop being a drag on society.

The experience of going to WINZ is demeaning and dehumanising. Your personal circumstances, your personal banking details, everything is fair game to your case manager and they aren’t always above making you feel like a lesser human being because of it.

I’ve never personally experienced the seminars ‘offered to’ (forced on) Jobseekers. When mental health needs conflict with the ability to attend compulsory seminars, what then? Some case managers will work with you. Some will cut your benefit with nothing but an official letter. If you’re too unwell to attend your seminar, are you going to be able to come and see them?

Being classed as a Jobseeker means that people with mental illnesses have an expectation laid on them to go out and get a job. That’s fine for people that are doing pretty well, who will be helped by a good job that can help them build a sense of normality and even of pride in themselves, as happened to the young man in the article. For people on the worse side of the mental health existence, pressure to get a job when you’re flatly incapable just makes things worse. A person with badly- or un-controlled schizophrenia complete with delusions and hallucinations is not ready for employment, and they definitely aren’t in a position where coming in and seeing WINZ staff is even vaguely a good idea.

Someone with severe depression is going to struggle to go and see WINZ. Hell, they often struggle to get out of bed. And if they manage to come and see WINZ, what then? Who there has any idea about how debilitating depression can be? The awareness programmes that have run in the past ten years or more don’t show anything like how bad it can get. It’s all just glossed over, and in a way it makes it worse, because Joe Case Manager has this idea that it’s a problem, but it goes away, and it can be worked through. So Joe Case Manager has no sympathy and a list of jobs to apply for.

Mental health is not catered for in the WINZ system, no matter what they say. There’s no true understanding of what their clients are experiencing at any level – why would mental health be treated with any more understanding than the plight of a pregnant newly-single mother? Come and talk to us? Yeah, right.